Friday, July 20, 2007

Eco tour Campo Grande – Bonito – Miranda (1/2)

I’ve been spending some weeks in Brazil, and took a week to do some eco tourism in Mato Grosso do Sul state, near Bolivia’s border. The region is primarily known for agriculture and the Pantanal, a nature reserve area. Pantanal literally means swamp and is said to have more biodiversity per square kilometre than the Amazon has. We left for Bonito by car from state capital Campo Grande.

The route lead us through vast fields of soy and sugarcane and along the route we were trying to spot some wild animals. We did meet some, like wandering groups of emu’s, toucans passing by and an ant eater trying to hide for us. Soon it became clear to us that we had most chances to spot the animals in the messy roadside bushes, rather than the road shoulders along the soy and cane fields. I might be rather obvious but for an urban dweller like me it was quite a revelation to realize that these vast fields of crops had little to do with nature or diversity. Instead, it was monoculture on a large scale, with no place for animals. These were just to be found on the small and isolated parts of ‘wasteland’ in between the enormous fazenda’s (ranches), or at the spots where the terrain was too steep to cultivate.

Also, along the road shoulders, we would meet many dwellings made of wasted wood or clay with roofs made of palm tree leaves. These were the homes of the landless workers, usually working on the fazenda’s as day workers. The landless workers fight for the right to cultivate land, usually radically, embracing communism, this way alienating themselves from mainstream politics.

We just met another car every half an hour while we moved on and my mind started wandering. Mono cultural and large scale agriculture seemed to result in an imbalance for both man and beast at Brazil’s countryside. It would be interesting to know what small scale agriculture would mean for both problems. The rural workers would be able to cultivate land individually and independently. Similarly the bushes at the small pieces of wasteland would be distributed more equally, which would stimulate animal diversity. Diversity is nature’s strategy to survival and provides flexibility through interdependency. Any fluctuation in the environment, for example as a result of climate change, could be dealt with. It would make Brazil’s nature less vulnerable, as well as its rural social fabric.

It proves the statement of William McDonough when he says all sustainability, like politics, is local.

To be continued…

Picture: Blue sky, green soy, red dust. A crossing with signs for fazenda's in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state.


Erik, The Netherlands said...

Dear Maurits,

It is interesting to read about your voyage. I look forward to your next post on that.
It is also interesting to read about Brazil's rural issues. In Western Europe the link between land and power has more or less vanished during the centuries. Since the industrial revolution and the electronic revolution wealth is increasingly less related to ownership of land.
It seems in Brazil land is still a huge power source. Am I correct in this view? And if so, why is that?

Maurits said...

I have to admit I do not know a lot about the issue, but this is what I do know. Brazil has never known radical land reforms since the decolonization and as a result the rural areas are still mostly under the control of a handful of oligarchs. These landlords, who represent 0.8% of the population, possess 43% of the land while 53% of small peasants own only 2.7% of the land (see here). These oligarchs typically also have ties with politics, and as a consequence a large number of senators also have ranches or own land that is not even used but is kept for speculation. (To this purpose large areas in the Amazon are cleared not for wood or agriculture, but just to lay bare in the hope the value of the land will rise...) Land reforms are necessary, but unlikely. I think the Lula government, which has a powerful mandate from the country's poorest, is missing a historic opportunity here. But there still is hope as (see my posting here). I promise I will get back to this issue soon.